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French anti-virus pass protesters clash with police in Paris

  • 31 Jul 2021

Some 3,000 security forces deployed around the French capital on Saturday for a third weekend of protests against the planned virus pass that will be needed to enter restaurants and other places in France.

Policemen clash with a man in a demonstration part of a national day of protest against French legislation on compulsory Covid-19 health pass in Paris on July 31, 2021. ( AFP )

Thousands in France protesting a special virus pass marched through Paris, with French police in full riot gear using their fists to push some demonstrators back and firing tear gas against some crowds.

Police took up posts along Paris’ Champs-Elysees to guard against an invasion of the famed avenue by violent demonstrators on Saturday.

Anti-pass marches were being held in scattered cities across France, and four separate protests were held in Paris, the third weekend of anti-health pass protests.

Spike in infections

With virus infections spiking and hospitalisations rising, French lawmakers have passed a bill requiring the pass in most places as of August 9. 

Polls show a majority of French support the pass, but some French are adamantly opposed. The pass requires vaccinations or a quick negative test or proof of a recent recovery from Covid-19 and mandates vaccinations for all healthcare workers by mid-September.

For anti-pass demonstrators, “liberty” was the slogan of the day.

Hager Ameur, a 37-year-old nurse, said she resigned from her job, accusing the government of using a form of “blackmail."

“I think that we mustn’t be told what to do,” she told The Associated Press, adding that medical workers during the first wave of Covid-19 were quite mistreated. 

"And now, suddenly we are told that if we don’t get vaccinated it is our fault that people are contaminated. I think it is sickening.”

READ MORE: EU only sent less than 3% of extra vaccines to poor nations

Largest demo

Tensions flared in front of the famed Moulin Rouge nightclub in northern Paris during what appeared to be the largest demonstration. 

Lines of police faced down protesters in up-close confrontations during the march. Police used their fists on several occasions.

As marchers headed eastward, police fired tear gas into the crowds, plumes of smoke filling the sky. A male protester was seen in the chaos with a bleeding head.

Another less tension-filled march was led by the former top lieutenant of far-right leader Marine Le Pen who left to form his own small anti-EU party. 

But Florian Philippot's new cause, against the virus pass, seems far more popular. His contingent of hundreds marched Saturday to the Health Ministry.

Among those not present this week was Francois Asselineau, leader of the tiny anti-EU Popular Republican Union party and an ardent campaigner against the health pass, who came down with Covid-19. 

In a video on his party’s website, Asselineau, who was not hospitalised, called on people to denounce the “absurd, unjust and totally liberty-killing” health pass.

READ MORE: French scientists: More people need to be vaccinated to stop Delta variant

Delta making inroads

French authorities are implementing the health pass because the highly contagious delta variant is making strong inroads. More than 24,000 new daily cases were confirmed Friday night,  compared with just a few thousand cases a day at the start of the month.

The government announcement that the health pass would take effect on August 9 after approval by the Constitutional Council has driven many unvaccinated French to sign up for inoculations so their social lives won’t get shut down during the summer holiday season. 

Vaccinations are now available at a wide variety of places, including some beaches. More than 52 percent of the French population has been vaccinated.

More than 111,800 people have died of the virus in France since the start of the pandemic.

READ MORE: What is a Covid-19 vaccine 'breakthrough' case?

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